Southern challenge awaits Championship field

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Balancing speed with risk is the challenge according to championship leader Richard Mason as the New Zealand Rally Championship heads to the rolling hills and forest tracks of the Drivesouth Rally of Otago this weekend.

The two day event contested over 283 kilometers of special stages is famous for its smooth fast roads punctuated by daunting crests and twisting bends to challenge New Zealand’s best rally drivers.

Masterton driver, Mason who leads the championship after victory in the opening round at Whangarei has several years of experience on the demanding Otago stages.

“Otago is a difficult challenge. It’s a real balance between driving flat-out and using your head due to the changes in rhythm from extremely fast sections to difficult corners over crests. It’s easy to be caught out” said Mason.

This year’s event will begin with a Rally Show and Ceremonial Start in Dunedin’s Octagon on Friday evening before heading to the Lawrence and Milton areas on Saturday for six gravel public road stages including a nerve rattlling 49 kilometer test at Manuka Hill.

The always popular tarmac Super Special stage with four laps of a city block concludes the day’s action, before a further eight stages on Sunday including the events signature stage, Kuri Bush, a 15 kilometer rollercoaster of huge crests and flowing bends that reward the brave.

The victory celebrations will be held from 3pm on Sunday afternoon outside the Dunedin Railway Station for those who master the Southern challenge.

Mason, a four times national rally champion and a three time winner of the Otago event (2007, 2008 and 2012) will be the benchmark for the chasing pack, as competition in the New Zealand Rally Championship takes on a fresh look in 2014 with a number of new drivers challenging at the front of the field.

Twenty-two-year old Canterbury Subaru driver Matt Summerfield is currently second in the championship after a fast and consistent run at Whangarei, while 19- year-old Lance Williams from Te Aroha, competing in his Rookie Championship season is third after an impressive opening performance.

With two legs of competition and at least a dozen drivers capable of outright victory, the Otago Rally is set to provide an exciting weekend of competition for the challengers.

Adding to the spectacle and always a major drawcard of the Otago event is the Classic Rally/

National Champion Hayden Paddon will take a break from his Hyundai World Championship rally program to contest the Classic Rally at the wheel of a BDA Escort.

New Zealand rally fans will line the stages to see Paddon in action against 1994 World Rally Champion, the flying Frenchman Didier Auriol who will pilot a Ford Escort, and 2013 Otago Classic Rally winner Neal Bates, a former Australian Rally Champion driving a classic Toyota Celica. Leading competitor in the Classic division of the National Championship, Marcus Van Klink will also line up at the front of the Classic rally field in his potent Group B Mazda RX7.

Local drivers will also be involved with Dylan Cameron competing in the Allcomers rally in his two litre Nissan powered Toyota Corrolla while Geoff Williamson and John Simpson compete in their first Rally in a Subaru WRX 4WD, starting 40th seed.

In The Classic Rally John Mather and Lance Streeter will drive their Datsun 1200 and are the top seeds in the 0-1300cc class.

Peter and Cherie Fridd will race in a Toyota Starlet 39C in the same class.

This will be the Fridd’s  50th Rally type event of which they have a 100 per cent finishing record.

“We would like to achieve this again (completing the race) ,” said Peter Fridd.

“At the age of 63, we drive with a little caution and cunning as last year after seven cars starting in the 0-1300cc class we were the only ones to finish , this will be my thirteenth Otago rally and Cherie’sninth, having won the class on four occasions and been in the top thee for the rest.”

Brendon Fisher and Jason West will also be competing in a Toyota Starlet and are ranked  fifth seed in the same class.

A rally map is available free to download from the event website www.otagorally.net, or can be collected from rally headquarters at The Southern Cross Hotel, High Street Dunedin.

By JAMES FORD

PHOTO: SUPPLIED -Local driver Peter Fridd in action during last year’s Otago Rally.